Visakhapatnam: The Human Rights Forum (HRF) and Samalochana Association on Thursday in a joint statement said that they are deeply disappointed over the paltry quantum of revision of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) wages in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

They said that the increase of wages by a meager Rs 8, taking the existing Rs 237 to Rs 245, is measly and amounts to mere eyewash. "We are concerned about the gap between the minimum wages stipulated in the Minimum Wages Act and the MGNREGA wages. Not paying minimum wages in public works amounts to 'forced labour' and it is deplorable that successive governments are unwilling to abide by Constitutional principles in the matter," said Chakradhar Buddha, convenor, Samalochana Association.

A well-functioning MGNREGA with just wages can work as a lifeline for rural workers. However, the unremunerative levels of MGNREGA wages together with a chronic shortage of work and delay in payments are proving to be detrimental to a key objective of the MGNREGA which is to arrest distress migration.

"It is well known that widespread disruption of economic activity caused due to the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to turn to MGNREGA in rural India. This clearly insufficient increase in wage rate, that can only be termed stingy and insensitive, does little to enhance relief or provide respite in the ongoing economic crisis," said V.S. Krishna of the HRF.

They also added that it is a shame that the Government of India has chosen to write-off mammoth debts of corporate firms but does not see fit to pay minimum wages commensurate with the Minimum Wages Act and allocate sufficient funds for the MGNREGA implementation.

Both organisations are demanding enhancement of the MGNREGA employment period to 200 days for each household, payment of minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act and increase in the budgetary allocation to the programme.

Coffee and NREGA

The HRF and the Samalochana also took strong exception to the recent decision of the Union government to disallow coffee plantation works under the MNREGA in tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh. They said that the move is unwarranted as it would be extremely harmful to Adivasi farmers who would be losing around Rs 15,000 per acre per year. Over a lakh of Adivasi farmers would be rendered without wage support and would find it difficult to sustain themselves because of this ill-advised move, they said.

"After encouraging tribal farmers all these years to take up coffee plantation in a big way, this sudden decision to delink coffee from MNREGA would mean most farmers will lose out on investments made so far. There is the distinct possibility of this move resulting in distress migration. We urge the Central government to reverse the decision and appeal to the State government to support tribal farmers in the interregnum," the forums said.

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